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SOU board of trustees questions realignment plan

Southern Oregon University President Rick Bailey discussing the retrenchment plan on Feb. 16, 2023
Erik Neumann
Southern Oregon University President Rick Bailey discussing the retrenchment plan on Feb. 16, 2023

Southern Oregon University is facing a $5 million deficit that could nearly triple by 2027. On Friday, President Rick Bailey responded to board of trustee concerns about his plan to get the university back on track.

Bailey repeated many of the points he’s discussed with the SOU community over the past seven months.

His plan includes cutting 82 full-time equivalent positions, or around 13 percent of SOU staff.

Those cuts are happening across all departments, which has some members of the board of trustees concerned.

A few are worried about the theater department, one of the most popular programs at SOU.

Bailey said the theater program is still highly valued.

“That, though, doesn’t mean that theater, just like every other program, [shouldn't] take a look at how it provides this education," he said. "And whether or not there’s an opportunity for it to think about itself differently.”

Under Bailey’s plan, around three theater instructor positions will be cut, and the program will refocus on preparing students not just for theater, but other entertainment opportunities in fields such as film, gaming, concerts and special events.

Another major concern among board members is the increased workload the remaining staff could face after the plan is completed.

But Bailey said SOU needs to recognize the growing disparity between staff and students.

“There are far more employees now than we had 10 years ago, far more," he said. "The only group that has decreased in number is students. So we have more employees serving fewer students.”

Overall enrollment numbers show 6,852 students enrolled in total in fall of 2011, compared to 5,089 in 2021.

Still, Bailey said student needs have grown significantly over time.

Several members of the board emphasized the need to train the remaining staff to ensure they’re just as efficient with a smaller team.

"It's my experience that if people knew how to do it, they would have done it already," said Board Vice-chair Sheila Clough, talking about workflow efficiency.

Bailey is expected to present the final plan to the board next month for adoption.

Roman Battaglia is a regional reporter for Jefferson Public Radio. After graduating from Oregon State University, Roman came to JPR as part of the Charles Snowden Program for Excellence in Journalism in 2019. He then joined Delaware Public Media as a Report For America fellow before returning to the JPR newsroom.